Mentok Kangri II Expedition | Ladakh Reviews
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Mentok Kangri II Expedition | Ladakh

Mentok Kangri II Expedition | Ladakh

A fantastic walk on the Changthang plataeu and attempt to climb a 6000m plus peak in the Himalayas.

The old proverb ''Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder' struck me deep as i stood on the wide plains of Chang tang, staring out at the endless alpine plains in Ladakh. My prior travels to Ladakh had comprised road trips with friends and family to serene landscapes. But as a challenge and to experience this amazing region anew, I signed up with Ultimate Frontier Outlands (UFO) for a walk from Tso Kar to Tso Moriri and then attempt to summit Mentok Kangri II, a 6210m high Himalayan peak. This trek would take me across Chang Tang plateau from a salt water lake, Tso Kar to a fresh water lake, Tso Moriri while crossing three 5000m high passes, Kyamaru La(5400m), Gyabarma La(5300m) and Yalung Naula Pass (5400m). All this was only till the Mentok Kangri base camp!

Flying in to Leh, we took absolute rest on the first day to get used to the thin air as advised by our guide. We cycled on our second day, an exercise to help us adapt to high altitude and aid our acclimatization. We then left for Tso Kar on the third day and were greeted by our guide, Pawan, chef Gagan and the kitchen crew. After tea, we  went out for a little ride in the night to the lake side which looked amazing on a full moon night. Every salt speck shimmered like a crystal under the moon light reflecting the moon on the white landscape. We camped on the lakeside and were comfortable in our 3 person tent and some tasty food cooked for us by our chef.  Thus started our journey, a tryst with high Himalayas. The next day after a sumptuous breakfast, we set out early to complete our 12 km hike to Nuruchan, a walk mostly on the banks of Tso Kar. The gradient was gradual this gave the group ample time to forge bonds of what lay ahead.


Following day we had to cross Nuruchan La(4750mts) our first pass over to Rachungkaru(4952mts). The ascent to the top got the better of me and a spare mule came to my aid as it helped me cross a stream. Packed lunch with sandwich, fruit, juice and cookies rejuvenated me and my will to walk further was restored. Arriving at the camp and welcomed with rhododendron tea, we noticed the thousands of Pashmina sheep at Rachungkaru. We are camping next to a Changpa nomad settlements who could be seen bringing their livestock back home as dawn arrived.  After dinner, we played our customary round of card games and then check into our cozy and warm tents as the cold winds started and the temperature dropped on the Chang Tang. We had been briefed two 5000mts high passes we were to cross the next day and to keep up the morale, I had to muster all the thoughts and experiences of Stephen Alter and Bill Aitkin, prolific mountain authors.
The big day arrived and we started our ascension towards Kyamaru La. The climb is steep and rising gradient seemed endless. Trekking in the shadow of the mountain with only one goal in mind felt like meditation, calming ones soul. As my mind came to peace, I trudged at a steady pace to reached the top. The group had a victory photo, tied the prayer flag and moved on to our next challenge. While crossing the valley to reach the base of Gyabarma La, we were greeted by a sudden sleet storm. Under bizarre climatic conditions we decided to eat our lunch in a sleet storm, to regain some strength to attempt crossing the 5300m high pass. A glimpse of snow in August was astonishing and we realized the unpredictability of weather in these high altitude regions. Climbing Gyabarma La felt familiar, the steep incline had become muscle memory from the previous climb. Breathing was heavy and legs felt the fatigue but the spirit was uplifted with pristine natural surroundings. Wild hares kept popping up adding flutters to unstirred serene scene. At the top the achievement was celebrated with a toast of chocolate and prayer to the mountain gods for safe passage. Journey to our night halt was a joyous one as the sense of accomplishment was setting in. The chef rewarded us for our effort of crossing two high passes with pizza and pasta!!  Milky way gleaming over our heads and Italian cuisine at 5000m is truly an unique experience.  Well astral travelling while eating a pizza is something to be savored for a lifetime. 
Next day, we were excited as we would finally get a glimpse of  Tso Moriri after crossing Yalung Naula pass(5400mts). The first leg of our expedition would come to an end. Climbing the high pass now seemed pleasant. The surroundings appealed to my senses and the nature soothed me. Reaching the top, we were awarded the most spectacular view of the lake. A blue sapphire surrounded by snow clad high Himalayas forming a white frame to a perfect picture shot. We broke bread at 5480mts to tell tales of this feat and a picnic at 5000mts. The whole group was excited! Now a vast valley lay between our lakeside camp and us. With full determination we walked across the vast expanse to our camp. Dip in the stream refreshed us and we had walked across the Chang Tang plateau to our first destination. We all slept very peacefully that night with views of the previous days lingering in our dreams.
After a heavy breakfast, we embarked on phase two, to climb Mentok Kangri II. In order to ascend we had to reach the base camp at 5300mts and spend a day there for more acclimatization and rest. There was no defined path to the base camp, we struggled up the way even walking through moraine. Approaching the base camp I could feel the high altitude making my breath heavy and my walk became a crawl. The crew took exceptional care of us upon arrival. Tea and snacks were served not as compliments but as measures to cope with altitude. We were to stay here for two days so all methods to keep fit and not fall ill were briefed. The commendable hospitality at 5000 plus meters is unforgettable and will be cherished for eons. Mentok Kangri stood up before us at 6250mts and between us lay only a distance of 1000mts. We were trained in using jumars to ascend and rappel to descend. With all preparations coming to rest we were ready to climb a peak. At the hour of ascension we got bad weather that delayed our approach. We waited for another couple of hours for the weather to get better but were unlucky. The weather got worse and we finally took the decision to abort the summit attempt and head down to Karzok dok the next day. Descending down to Karzok Dok(4632mts) I once again mesmerized the view of TsoMoriri with high Himalayas of Tibet as its background. We stayed the night to Karzok Dok and left back for Leh the next day. Even though we had not been able to summit, we were a happy bunch as we had a great time together and made friends for life.
Glancing back at my first expedition I can recall all the endeavor of the UFO to make it a success. My struggle to climb up a mountain and my dash downhill. The jovial mood of the camp always radiated warmth and occasional songs to gourmet trans global cuisines by the chef. Vast expanses of vistas and valleys to clusters of peaks and blue lakes. Such versatile vibrancy of nature in high Himalayas is second to none. Mountains being revered for deep meditation by seers and sages on their path to enlightenment, however I did not attain nirvana except did experience the calm and tranquility of the mountains. A romantic journey where the wonders of natural world over whelmed me. Coming face to face with forces of nature is a delightful experience. Chang Tang proved to be therapeutic as the silence consoled the ever active mind of city life.
To consolidate numerous experiences in one journey is work done par excellence by UFO. Regarding information and local knowledge, UFO extended all the help to push us and support us. An admirable effort to reconnect with nature. If exploring undisturbed magnificence of nature is what one desires then these footprints are for you.